Gretl Braun, the youngest of three daughters of Friedrich Braun (1879-1964) and Franziska Kronberger (1885-1976), was born in Simbach, Germany, on 31st August 1915. Her father was a master craftsman. Her sisters were Eva Braun and Ilse Braun.
After leaving school Gretl joined her sister, Eva, as an assistant in the studio of Heinrich Hoffmann. In 1932 Eva met Adolf Hitler. The historian Alan Bullock, the author of Hitler: A Study in Tyranny (1962) has pointed out: "She was a pretty, empty-headed blonde, with a round face and blue eyes, who worked as a shop girl in Hoffmann's photographer's shop. Hitler met her there, paid her a few casual compliments, gave her flowers, and occasionally invited her to be one of his party on an outing. The initiative was all on Eva's side: she told her friends that Hitler was in love with her and that she would make him marry her."
Anni Winter, Hitler's housekeeper, remembers that Eva was often at Hitler's flat: "Eva Braun was there often when Hitler was in Munich. She was always running after him, insisting on being alone with him. She was a most demanding woman." Cate Haste, the author of Nazi Women (2001) has argued: "From the start, their relationship was conducted in secrecy, not least because Hitler did not want to be associated in public with any one woman. Eva lived at home, and her parents were strict. Hitler, almost totally preoccupied with politics, was rarely in Munich. Eva was kept firmly in the background of his life. The pattern of secrecy that began their relationship suited Hitler, and continued to its end. And so did the pattern of despair. In November 1932, Eva Braun attempted suicide by shooting herself with her father's pistol, but she then rang Hitler's doctor, who came in time to save her, and the whole thing was hushed up. Hitler came to visit her with flowers at the clinic where she was recovering. Eva, the shadowy, loyal figure at the periphery of Hitler's life, continued to be frustrated by his neglect. Hitler would turn up at unpredictable times, and his moods shifted between gushing charm and indifference."
Hitler provided Eva with a three-bedroom apartment in Munich in August 1935. She told her parents: "I've decided to have my own apartment. I'm over twenty-one and I have the means. Isle and Gretl can come and live with me". Nerin E. Gun, the author of Eva Braun: Hitler's Mistress (1969), has pointed out: "Ilse, who by now had an inkling of the factors involved, did not want to play chaperone. The adventurous and carefree Gretl, on the other hand, accepted with enthusiasm. The idea of making Eva live with one, if not both, of her sisters came from Hitler, who, with his bourgeois mentality, demanded categorically that the proprieties be respected."
The dossiers of the Munich police reveal that on 30th March, 1936, Gretl and Eva moved into a little villa at 12 Wasserburgerstrasse, in the Bogenhausen district. A postman, Georg Otter, later recalled: "They were charming young ladies who gave me generous tips and sometimes a cigar. No, I didn't deliver any official mail with an eagle and swastika stamp, but piles of letters, from Berlin, too. The younger one often came to wait for me at the gate, for the young ladies had devilish little dogs who barked all the time... I remember the blue of the envelopes and the initials EB on the flaps."
Hitler began to see a great deal of the two sisters. Hitler took a keen interest in their health and tried to persuade them to give up smoking. Nerin E. Gun, the author of Eva Braun: Hitler's Mistress (1969) has argued: "He (Hitler) had also promised the ladies who went for a month without smoking a gift of a Swiss gold watch and some jewellery. Eva obtained her reward and so did about twenty other women, but Eva's sisters Ilse and Gretl and her intimate friend Herta forfeited theirs." HItler told Gretl: "Give up cigarettes, and I'll offer you a villa." Gretl replied: "My Fuhrer, a villa would be a great joy to me, but only one, whereas smoking gives me twenty little satisfactions every day, satisfactions that last and multiply."
Hitler tried to find Gretl a husband. His first choice was Heinz Hoffmann, the son of Heinrich Hoffmann, his personal photographer. Gretl did not find Heinz attractive and instead began a relationship with an American diplomat. When this came to an end she turned her attentions to Hitler's adjutant, Fritz Darges. Hitler's secretary, Traudl Junge, has pointed out in To The Last Hour: Hitler's Last Secretary (2002): "Gretl Braun was in love with Fritz Darges too, but a love affair with her was a little too dangerous and not private enough for young Fritz, so he hadn't been able to make up his mind." Darges was eventually sent away to fight the Red Army in the Soviet Union.
Hitler also tried to persuade Walter Hewell, a member of his intimate circle, to marry Gretl. Hewell was responsible for liaison between Joachim von Ribbentrop, the head of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Hitler. On one occasion Hitler described Hewell as an "excellent diplomat... one has to be to become an intermediary between Hitler and Ribbentrop". Traudl Junge has argued: "For a while those around him (Hitler) thought he wanted Hewel to marry Eva's sister Gretl Braun. But Hewel himself didn't fancy the idea." According to Nerin E. Gun, the author of Eva Braun: Hitler's Mistress (1969): "Hitler promised Hewell that after marrying Gretl he would appoint him ambassador in Rome. Hitler was so angry when Hewell married someone else he banished him from his presence. However, he eventually forgave him and he returned to his inner circle."
Gretl then became involved with Hermann Fegelein, who was SS liaison officer to Hitler. Traudl Junge, Hitler's secretary, later commented that Fegelein was very popular with the women at headquarters. "Hermann Fegelein was the daring cavalryman type. He had a very large nose, and wore the Knight's Cross with oak leaves and swords. No wonder he was used to women flocking around him. In addition he had a refreshing, sometimes very dry wit, and never minced his words. You felt he was a naturally frank and honest person. That helped him to forge a remarkable career quickly and unexpectedly. No sooner had he appeared than he was sitting with us at table in the Berghof. He went to Bormann's nocturnal parties, drank to the health of all the important men there, and all the women were at his feet. Those who were not his friends were his enemies until he was firmly in the saddle. He was clever but ruthless, and had some very attractive qualities, such as the honesty with which he admitted that at heart he was a terrible coward, and had won his decorations doing heroic deeds out of pure fear. He also frankly admitted that nothing was as important to him as his career and a good life."
Christa Schroeder was another of Hitler's secretaries who found Hermann Fegelein attractive and admitted that "he was a recognised heroic figure for women". According to Schroeder, so did Eva Braun. She told a mutual friend, Marion Schonmann: "A few years ago the boss (Hitler) said that if I fell in love one day with another man, then I should let him know and he would release me.... If I had known Fegelein ten years ago I would have asked the boss to let me go!" Eventually Fegelein married Gretl. Schroeder claims that the marriage on 3rd June 1944, was arranged by Eva: "Greta Braun was, as one would say today, sexy, and Fegelein might have been thinking of the advantages of one day being Hitler's brother-in-law. Thus the marriage took place and was celebrated as a great occasion on the Obersalzberg and in the tea-house on the Kehlstein."
Traudl Junge complained that even after marriage Fegelein continued to try to seduce the secretaries. According to Christa Schroeder, he had a very close relationship with Eva Braun. "Hermann Fegelein was frequently amongst those who danced with Eva Braun. Today I can recall clearly the unforgettable scene. After a dance Fegelein would lift Eva chest high. At eye level they would gaze at each other full of tenderness and loving: Eva was obviously strongly attracted to Fegelein. I am convinced that her feelings for him went well beyond those feelings for a brother-in-law, but I do not believe anything went on between them."
Albert Speer called him "one of the most disgusting people in Hitler's circle." He was also disliked by Heinz Linge: "With charm and presents he inveigled himself into everybody's good books and gave the impression of having a particular standing with Hitler which was not the case, for Hitler... treated him formally and kept him emphatically at arm's length.... Fegelein... who came to regard his duties as a paid pastime and too often let it be known that he thought himself too good for the job."
In January 1945, the Soviet troops entered Nazi Germany. On 16th January, following the defeat in the Battle of the Bulge, a small group, including Gretl, Hitler, Eva Braun, Joseph Goebbels, Magda Goebbels, Hermann Fegelein, Rochus Misch, Julius Schaub, Erich Kempka, Heinz Linge, Julius Schreck, Traudl Junge, Christa Schroeder and Johanna Wolf, moved into the Führerbunker in Berlin.
Hitler's chauffeur, Erich Kempka, claimed that on 27th April 1945 Hermann Fegelein contacted him with a strange request: "Hermann Fegelein, phoned me to ask if I would put at his disposal two vehicles for a reconnaissance. Moreover he would be grateful if I would do him a personal favour. He wanted me to take care of a briefcase with important files belonging to the Reichsfuhrer-SS and himself. He would hand it to me personally towards ten that evening in the Fuhrer-bunker. It was essential to keep it safe and in the event that the enemy entered the bunker, the briefcase was to be hidden where it could never be found, or should be destroyed. Under no circumstances must it fall into enemy hands. As I had been on familiar terms with Fegelein for years and he enjoyed Hitler's fullest confidence as Eva Braun's brother-in-law, I had no hesitation in agreeing to his request. I had really no idea at that moment that my willingness to be of assistance to him was putting my own life in danger. A short while afterwards Fegelein left the Reich Chancellery with two vehicles I had had repaired. They were the last survivors to remain serviceable from my once great vehicle fleet. To my great surprise the two automobiles were returned thirty minutes later, although without Fegelein. The drivers told me that he had got out in the Kurfurstendamm district to proceed on foot."
When it was discovered that Hermann Fegelein had gone missing the Gestapo was sent out to find him. Heinz Linge recalled that "Fegelein's adjutant reported back to the bunker, he stated that Fegelein had gone to his private flat and dressed in civilian clothing. The adjutant had been ordered to do the same." He told Hitler that the purpose of this being "to allow the Russians to roll over us and then we will make our way through to Himmler". Hitler came to the conclusion that Fegelein was involved in some sort conspiracy against him.
On 27th April 1945, Fegelein was arrested with his mistress in his apartment. SS-Obersturmbannführer Peter Högl discovered him with a great deal of money and discovered that he was just about to leave the country. Högl also found a briefcase containing documents with evidence of an attempted peace negotiation with the Allies. The following day the negotiations that were taking place between Himmler and Count Folke Bernadotte were leaked to the press. Hanna Reitsch was with Hitler when he heard the news: "His colour rose to a heated red and his face was unrecognizable... After the lengthy outburst, Hitler sank into a stupor, and for a time the entire bunker was silent."
According to Heinz Linge: "Fegelein was returned under armed guard he made a poor impression: wearing gloves, a leather coat and a sporty hat he looked like a Kurfurstendamm dandy. On Hitler's order he was arraigned immediately before a court-martial and sentenced to death for treason. Eva Braun, though clearly fighting an internal struggle, would not enter a plea for mercy for her brother-in-law even though Hitler indicated that he would commute the sentence on the highly decorated SS-0bergruppenfuhrer to 'atonement at the front'. Towards midnight an SS squad awaited Fegelein in the Reich Chancellery Ehrenhof. He remained impassive as the sentence of the court martial was read out."
Traudl Junge has argued that Eva Braun had asked Hitler to spare Fegelein as his wife and her sister, was heavily pregnant: "I don't know just where I was when the news reached Hitler. He may have ranted and raged one last time, but when I saw him again he was as calm as before. Only Eva Braun's eyes were red with weeping, because her brother-in-law was condemned to death.... She had tried to explain to Hitler that it was only human nature for Fegelein to think of his wife and their child, and try to help them get through to a new life. But Hitler was implacable. All he saw was deceit and treachery." Hermann Fegelein was executed on 28th April 1945. Hitler and Eva committed suicide two days later.
On 5th May 1945, Gretl gave birth to a daughter, whom she named Eva, after her sister, at Zell-am-See in Austria. She managed to hide the photograph albums, amateur films, letters, jewellery, and other mementos in the grounds of her former husband's castle, Schloss Fischron. According to Nerin E. Gun, the author of Eva Braun: Hitler's Mistress (1969): "Later she met a German refugee to whom she took a great liking. Whatever the nature of their relationship may have been, the man persuaded her to reveal to him the secret of the whereabouts of the documents that had belonged to her sister. The ingenuous Gretl, out of love or in the hope of financial gain, which she urgently needed, took him into her confidence. The German was a CIC agent of the American Third Army. The films, albums, pages of the diary, and other documents, whose nature seems to have been kept secret, were all sent to Washington. The films were exploited. The albums were found to contain photographs of Martin Bormann, the only ones in existence at that time. Thousands of reproductions of them were immediately made and distributed to the government and to the secret services throughout the world."
Gretl Braun married Kurt Berlinghoff on 6th February 1954 in Munich. They did not have children. Tragically, her only child, Eva Fegelein, committed suicide on 28th June, 1971 at age 26 after her fiance was killed in an automobile accident in which he was killed driving her sports car.
Gretl Fegelein died on 10th October 1987 in Steingaden, Bavaria. It is claimed by Angela Lambert, the author of The Lost Life of Eva Braun (2006), that over the last few years she suffered from Alzheimer's Disease.
After the failure of various efforts to marry off her younger sister Greta to men in Hitler's wider circle (e.g. to diplomat Hewel, adjutant Darges, minister Wagner), Eva Braun now matched her sister with Fegelein. He was a recognised heroic figure for women. Greta Braun was, as one would say today, sexy, and Fegelein might have been thinking of the advantages of one day being Hitler's brother-in-law. Thus the marriage took place and was celebrated as a great occasion on the Obersalzberg and in the tea-house on the Kehlstein. Eva said: "I would like this marriage to be as wonderful as if it were my own!" And so it was.
By 1944 the signs of an Anglo-American invasion of the Continent were multiplying, and he suspected that soon there would be no further occasion for festivities at Berchtesgaden or elsewhere. He therefore arranged a brilliant match between Eva's sister Gretl and Fegelein, a general of the SS. This Fegelein was the liaison officer between Himmler and Hitler, which was already remarkable, and in addition he was a great friend of Martin Bormann (they got drunk together almost every night), which was extraordinary.
Gretl was dazzled, the family was delighted at the honour, for an SS general was an important personage, and Eva was touched by this proof of her lover's interest, the more so because the fact of being Fegelein's sister-in-law considerably strengthened her social position. She could now be presented everywhere, and go out and travel with her brother-in-law. Moreover, being very resourceful, Fegelein managed to procure her dresses, perfumes, and furs even in the most impossible circumstances.
This marriage had not been easy to arrange. Fegelein was a magnificent specimen of a male who had all the females of Berchtesgaden at his feet and who considered any woman who refused to sleep with him a mortal enemy. At the same time he was extremely ambitious and the prospect of being the Fuhrer's brother-in-law, even morganatically, was highly attractive to him. From the moment of his marriage, he flaunted this new position that even his friend Bormann, who had placed him in Hitler's entourage, became worried.
Gretl, with her giddy temperament, was not over-particular in the matter of men. The photographs in her sister's albums show her with a hundred different boys, and it seems that she rarely refused a flirtation. She even fell in love with an American diplomat. Hitler had originally wanted to marry her to Heinz Hoffmann, the photographer's son, but had not succeeded. Hoffmann himself, because of his increasing drunkenness, had been banished from the "court".
Then Hitler's choice fell on another SS officer of his entourage, Fritz Darges, but he showed himself recalcitrant. Hitler, furious, packed him off to the Russian front. The next candidate was Walter von Hewel. He was a remarkable man who long enjoyed Hitler's confidence and who seems to have been perhaps the only disinterested and loyal member of his entourage. He had fought at his side in the Munich putsch and shared his captivity in Landsberg prison. He was an excellent diplomat ("One has to be," he used to say, "to become an intermediary between Hitler and Ribbentrop") and kept Hitler informed about foreign politics. His diplomatic instincts, however, seem to have warned him against a union with Gretl. He married somebody else and committed the unpardonable sin of not inviting Eva Braun to the wedding. This blunder and other intrigues incurred the wrath of Hitler, who banished him for a long time from his presence.
But the faithful Hewel came back to join him at the end in Berlin, where he met his death.
As for Eva's other sister, IIse, she was married in 1942 all alone in Breslau, with none of her family present, after giving up her dream of conquering Bruno Mussolini, whom she idolised. Her husband was a Dr. Fucke-Michaels.
Hans Georg Otto Hermann Fegelein, who was thirty-seven at the time of his marriage to Margareta Franziska Bertha Braun, was the son of the proprietor of a riding school in Munich, which still exists. At the Berghof those who dared to mock him said that he had started life as a stable boy and that his marriage bed should be a straw litter. He was an accomplished horseman, and had taken part in numerous equestrian competitions, where he had carried the German colours to victory by winning several cups. The SS organisation had absorbed this handsome young man, who was still more irresistible in flashy uniforms that, although , hardly in accordance with military tradition, dazzled the common people by their extravagance. He had been decorated with the Knight's Cross with Oak Leaves, a high distinction. Fegelein had obtained it for having mercilessly pursued the partisans in Slovakia, against whom he had organised fierce repressions, and for having accomplished a mission in the concentration camp of Theresienstadt.
With his brilliant dancing, his social gaiety, he had seduced Gretl. Before his marriage, however, he had declared all over the Berghof that she was a "stupid goose", and it seems strange that she should have remained unaware of this.
The civil wedding took place on the third of June 1944, in the Salzburg town hall, with Bormann and Himmler as witnesses, but the reception was held at the Obersalzberg. Hitler invited the Braun and Fegelein families and fifty or so other people to lunch at the Berghof and even made a short speech over dessert. Then the whole party went up to the Kehlstein for a real celebration, the only one that ever took place in this mountain house that Hitler very rarely visited. He went there only twice during the war, and Gretl's wedding was the last occasion...
From the time of Gretl's wedding at the Kehlstein, Hitler's physique deteriorated steadily. He refused to admit this fact, and the entourage, to flatter him, admired his vitality. Goebbels distributed thousands of propaganda photographs of a vigorous, athletic Hitler. But it was like the portrait of Dorian Gray, except that in this case it was not the picture but the man that was falling into decripitude.
The assassination attempt of 20th July aggravated Hitler's state still further. His left hand was seized by a tremor ("It's lucky," he remarked to his secretaries, "that it's not my head that's started to tremble"), and he suffered from constant headaches. Then he grew hard of hearing. A specialist was summoned from Berlin, a Dr. Giesing, who discovered that both membranes of his ears were damaged. An operation was necessary and was successfully undertaken. After this, Hitler went through a long period of depression. He no longer took any interest in anything, not even in the military situation. He only emerged from His torpor to telephone to Eva. Half crazy with worry, she insisted that she should join him at the front, to look after him. But Hitler was adamant, for he did not wish the troops to reproach him for such a privilege - they who for years had been obligatorily separated from their families.
Later, he confessed to Traudl Junge: "I'm no longer afraid of death; it will be a deliverance for me. For since my youth, misery and anguish have been my constant companions."
At five in the afternoon of 27 April 1945, Himmler's liaison officer to Hitler, SS-Obergruppenfiihrer and General der Waffen-SS Hermann Fegelein, phoned me to ask if I would put at his disposal two vehicles for a reconnaissance. Moreover he would be grateful if I would do him a personal favour. He wanted me to take care of a briefcase with important files belonging to the Reichsfuhrer-SS and himself. He would hand it to me personally towards ten that evening in the Fuhrer-bunker. It was essential to keep it safe and in the event that the enemy entered the bunker, the briefcase was to be hidden where it could never be found, or should be destroyed. Under no circumstances must it fall into enemy hands.
As I had been on familiar terms with Fegelein for years and he enjoyed Hitler's fullest confidence as Eva Braun's brother-in-law, I had no hesitation in agreeing to his request. I had really no idea at that moment that my willingness to be of assistance to him was putting my own life in danger. A short while afterwards Fegelein left the Reich Chancellery with two vehicles I had had repaired. They were the last survivors to remain serviceable from my once great vehicle fleet. To my great surprise the two automobiles were returned thirty minutes later, although without Fegelein. The drivers told me that he had got out in the Kurfurstendamm district to proceed on foot. He had left the Reich Chancellery in his Waffen-SS general's uniform.
Hitler, already infuriated and crestfallen at the Reuters report he had just received about Himmler's attempt to negotiate peace with the Western Allies, suspected "treasonable circumstances". "Where is Fegelein?" roared Bormann, "Where is the guy?" SS-Obersturmbannfuhrer Kempka, Hitler's driver, replied that on Fegelein's orders he had released to him the last two service vehicles at the Reich Chancellery "for a service task". These vehicles had returned, but without Fegelein, who had placed himself near the Kurfurstendamm for some kind of "information-gathering exercise". When Fegelein's adjutant reported back to the bunker, he stated that Fegelein had gone to his private flat and dressed in civilian clothing. The adjutant had been ordered to do the same, the purpose of this being "to allow the Russians to roll over us and then we will make our way through to Himmler". The adjutant had not been prepared to go along with the idea. For Bormann, Hitler, and everybody else it was clear: Fegelein was a coward and traitor who was fleeing before the enemy. Disguised as a civilian, he had attempted to sneak away even though he was not just an SS-general but also Eva Braun's brother-in-law. On 27th April the RSD went to his flat and found him with a woman. She was not Eva Braun's sister Gretl, his wife, but an unknown female. With 100,000 KM, gold and jewellery ready packed, he had been hoping to leave Berlin unnoticed after failing to convince Eva Braun in a telephone conversation the previous day that she should also leave the Reich capital as soon as she could.
Returned under armed guard he made a poor impression: wearing gloves, a leather coat and a sporty hat he looked like a Kurfurstendamm "dandy". On Hitler's order he was arraigned immediately before a court-martial and sentenced to death for treason. Eva Braun, though clearly fighting an internal struggle, would not enter a plea for mercy for her brother-in-law even though Hitler indicated that he would commute the sentence on the highly decorated SS-0bergruppenfuhrer to "atonement at the front". Towards midnight an SS squad awaited Fegelein in the Reich Chancellery Ehrenhof. He remained impassive as the sentence of the court martial was read out.
Soon after the execution Hitler called me into his study. After I had entered and reported myself in military fashion he said without any preamble: "I would like to release you to your family." I now did something I had never done before by interrupting him to declare: "Mein Fuhrer, I have been with you in good times, and I am staying with you also in the bad." Hitler looked at me calmly and said only: "I did not expect anything else from you." Then, standing at his writing desk, he went on: "I have another personal job for you. What I must do now is what I have ordered every commander at every redoubt to do: hold out to the death. This order is also binding on myself, since I feel that I am here as the commandant of Berlin. You should hold in readiness woollen blankets in my bedroom and enough petrol for two cremations. I am going to shoot myself here together with Eva Braun. You will wrap our bodies in woollen blankets, carry them up to the garden, and there burn them." I stood paralysed. "Jawohl, mein Fuhrer,' I stuttered, trembling. I could find nothing else to say.
I play with the Goebbels children, read them fairy-tales, play forfeits with them and try to shield them from all the horrors. Their mother hardly has the strength to talk to them any more. At night they sleep peacefully in their six little beds, while the waiting in the bunker goes on and our doom comes closer and closer.
The last crushing blow falls on Hitler on 28 April. He still hasn't decided what is to be done with Hermann Fegelein, who he feels has let him down and betrayed him, when Heinz Lorenz of the press office brings him alarming news: according to a Reuter's report, SS Reichsfuhrer Heinrich Himmler has been conducting negotiations with the Allies through Count Bernadotte.
I don't know just where I was when the news reached Hitler. He may have ranted and raged one last time, but when I saw him again he was as calm as before. Only Eva Braun's eyes were red with weeping, because her brother-in-law was condemned to death. He had been shot like a dog in the park of the Foreign Office, under the blossoming trees and near the sweet bronze statue of the girl. She had tried to explain to Hitler that it was only human nature for Fegelein to think of his wife and their child, and try to help them get through to a new life. But Hitler was implacable. All he saw was deceit and treachery. His "faithful Heinrich", whom he had taken for a rock of loyalty in the middle of the sea of weakness and deceit, had gone behind his back too. Suddenly Fegelein's actions took on another aspect: he had been part of a conspiracy. Hitler imagined terrible things about Himmler's intentions. Perhaps Himmler meant to assassinate him? Hand him over to the enemy alive? By now he not only distrusted everyone from Himmler's entourage still here with him, he even distrusted the poison that Himmler had given him. Dr Stumpfegger, who was with us in the bunker looking pale and thin, was more silent than ever. Hitler suspected him too.
So Professor Haase was brought over from the operating bunker in the New Reich Chancellery. We saw the Fuhrer speak to him, give him one of the poison capsules, and then go with him to the little place at the entrance to the lavatories where Blondi and her puppies were kept. The doctor bent over the dog, a little waft of the bitter-almond scent reached us, and Blondi didn't move again. Hitler came back. His face looked like his own death mask. Without a word he shut himself in his room. Himmler's poison could be relied on!